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House, Senate Pass Marijuana Decriminalization Bills

The bills will now be passed to the opposing chamber for a vote. If enacted, Rhode Island would become the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana.

The following is from a State House press release. 

The full Senate and House approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick) and Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) to for carrying one ounce or less of marijuana.

Instead, the new law, if approved, would impose a civil penalty of a $150 fine, plus forfeiture of the drug. A third offense within 18 months of the previous offense would be treated as a misdemeanor.

The legislation passed the House in a 50 to 24 vote and passed the Senate in a 28 to 6 vote. Each bill must now travel across the rotunda to pass the opposite chamber in order to become law.

Under the provisions of the Senate and House bills (2012-S 2253Aaa2012-H 7092Aaa), offenders who are minors would also have to complete an approved drug awareness program and community service. The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal would have jurisdiction over these cases.

Currently, possession of even very small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor under state law and is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $500.

This legislation could save the state millions of dollars each year, clean the judicial dockets for more serious issues and take away the criminal stigma from an otherwise youthful indiscretion, Rep. Edwards said.

“I introduced this bill for three reasons,” Edwards said. “Firstly, I don’t think people should have a charge on their record that stays there forever because of a bad decision made during their teen years. Secondly, the state is going to save a little money from this because we won’t be incarcerating as many people.

"But most importantly, I think this is the right thing to do. Fourteen other states have done this, and Rhode Island and Vermont are the only exceptions in New England right now. This legislation brings equity to the state of Rhode Island." 

Senator Miller said the Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana hearings that took place in 2010 really made a difference in how some of his colleagues and members of the public viewed the prospect of marijuana decriminalization.

“I think the commission lured out some of the real benefits that can come from this legislation,” said Senator Miller, who served as chairman of the commission. “Not only will it have economic benefits tied to law enforcement, judiciary and incarceration costs, but it will be especially beneficial for young people. During the commission hearings, it was clear that education and treatment was the favored way of dealing with minors’ use of pot.

"No one wants to see opportunities in higher education closed off to someone because of criminal charges related to marijuana.”

The senator also pointed out that teens who can afford a good defense in court tend to fare better than those who can’t.

If enacted, Rhode Island would become the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana.

In 2008, Massachusetts voters carried passage of a similar law with 65 percent of the vote. Connecticut’s legislature established a decriminalization law last year.

The Rhode Island legislation would go into effect on April 1, 2013.

Co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill include Senators Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5,Providence), Rhoda E. Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6,Providence) and Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket).

Reps. Frank G. Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) and Peter G. Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) co-sponsored the House bill.

malcolm kyle June 06, 2012 at 08:12 AM
What makes your clock tick? http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock * In 2010, 52.1% of the 1,638,846 total arrests for prohibition violations were for marijuana -- making a calculated total of 853,839. * Of those, an estimated 750,591 people (45.8%) were arrested for marijuana possession alone. * By contrast, in 2000, a total of 734,497 Americans were arrested for marijuana "violations", of which 646,042 (40.9%) were for possession alone. * From 1996-2010, there were 10.1 million arrests for marijuana possession and 1.4 million arrests for the sales and distribution of marijuana, equaling a total of 11.5 million marijuana arrests during that fifteen year time frame. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Marijuana#Total * Marijuana "violation" arrests were 39.9% of total prohibition arrests in 1995 increasing to 52.1% of such arrests in 2010. * During this same period, arrests for marijuana sales and distribution fluctuated between 5-6% of total prohibition arrests, while those for simple possession increased from 34.1% in 1995 to 45.8% in 2010. * Arrests for marijuana possession have risen from about a third to about a half of all prohibition violation arrests over the fifteen year 1995-2010 period. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Marijuana#Share
malcolm kyle June 06, 2012 at 08:14 AM
"With over 5 million people on probation or parole in the United States, drug use on parole or probation has become the primary basis by which thousands of people are returned to prison. These technical violations of parole or probation account for as many as 40% of new prison admissions in some jurisdictions." - page 6 DIRECT THREAT TO PUBLIC SAFTEY: "The “war on drugs” has also generated indirect costs that many researchers contend have undermined public safety. The federal government has prioritized spending and grants for drug task forces and widespread drug interdiction efforts that often target low-level drug dealing. These highly organized and coordinated efforts have been very labor intensive for local law enforcement agencies with some unanticipated consequences for investigation of other crimes. The focus on drugs is believed to have redirected law enforcement resources that have resulted in more drunk driving, and decreased investigation and enforcement of violent crime laws. In Illinois, a 47% increase in drug arrests corresponded with a 22% decrease in arrests for drunk driving. Florida researchers have similarly linked the focus on low level drug arrests with an increase in the serious crime index." Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Arquivos/Global_Com_Bryan_Stevenson.pdf

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